This is post #2 in a series devoted to our ongoing research of 143-145 Ave D, documenting all of the detours & discoveries uncovered along the way. For background, see part one.
As we mentioned in our first post in this series, certain elements on the facade of 143-145 Avenue D initially gave us a hunch we were looking at something very old and very special. To find out just how old, we scoured tax assessment records for the building spanning back to the 1820s (these are basically records of the owner and assessed value of the lot from year to year). Examining the records, we found that the building had originally been built as the Dry Dock Banking House in 1827!
What does this mean? Well, try to picture this: When 143-145 Avenue D was first built, it was a free-standing building with vacant land all around it. The East Village had little substantial development of which to speak outside of the blossoming little collection of buildings that had sprung up around St. Marks Church in the Bowery in an area known as Bowery Village. Alphabet City was practically an uncharted frontier.
But to understand why being the home of the original Dry Dock Banking House makes 143-145 Avenue D so special, it is important to understand the role that the New York Dry Dock Company itself played in the development of Alphabet City.
The story of the company begins in 1825 when it was granted by the New York City Legislature an unusual, unlimited charter, which included banking rights, to last “as long as grass grows and water runs.”
Immediately after its charter, the New York Dry Dock Company began to amass large swaths of land in the East Village, a largely uninhabited area known previously as Burnt Mill Point. The company purchased this land from Nicholas Stuyvesant, a direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant.
Maps from around this period confirm that the first extension of the Manhattan shoreline along the East River was occurring around this same time, along with the leveling of the island being done in conjunction with the implementation of the 1811 grid plan.
By 1826, the New York Dry Dock Company had constructed its first dry dock at the foot of Tenth Street and the very first marine railway in the country. This marine railway was significant because previously, in order to undertake repairs such as “coppering the bottom” of ships, it had been necessary to “heave” ships out of the water – a difficult process that often resulted in damage to the ships that were at this time growing larger than ever. The marine railway was a technologically-advanced mechanism, which allowed these larger ships to be removed from the water with a great deal more ease and safety. No longer was it necessary to send ships to Europe for repairs.
This is when our building entered the picture: In 1827, what is now referred to as 143-145 Avenue D was built for use as the Dry Dock Company’s official banking house. It was originally a four-story, Federal-style building situated just one block from the marine railway.
With the New York Dry Dock Company, its marine railway and its banking house in place, the neighborhood grew rapidly and flourished for the next couple decades as the Dry Dock District – a prosperous, tree-lined neighborhood full of single family homes and well-known for its ship-building trade. A handful of surviving rowhouses lining the streets of Alphabet City today recall these early days in the neighborhood’s history, and GVSHP is hoping to see them protected and preserved before it’s too late. To date, not a single remnant of the Dry Dock neighborhood – the first period of development in Alphabet City – is protected as a New York City landmark.
But the golden years couldn’t last forever. Stay tuned for the next installment in the saga, when the Banking House makes the jump across the street and winds of change overtake the neighborhood.
Mystery on Avenue D: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 1